The importance of sleep has been getting a lot of attention recently and for good reason! Sleep is when your body recovers, repairs, and recharges. I don’t know about you, but I feel so off on days that I didn’t sleep well the night before. There are many processes that are happening while you sleep that are vital for your overall health.

Sleep matters when it comes to immune function. In a recent article from 2017, it was found that the human immune system and sleep both are associated and influenced by each other. Sleep deprivation makes a living body susceptible to many infectious agents. Similarly, sleep affects insulin. A study from 2010 found that a single night of sleep deprivation (4 hours versus 8.5 hours) induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. Sleep also plays a major role in memory. Many studies were reviewed in an article from 2015. The findings indicate that poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Recovery is another huge process that happens when we sleep! In a 2015 study done on rats, it was found that sleep loss causes cell damage. In fact, oxidative DNA damage in totally sleep deprived (10 days) rats was 139% of control values, with organ-specific effects in the liver (247%), lung (166%), and small intestine (145%). Recovery rats were similarly sleep deprived for 10 days, then allowed undisturbed sleep for 2 days. Two days of recovery sleep restored the balance between DNA damage and repair, and resulted in normal or below-normal metabolic burdens and oxidative damage. Very interesting! The last article I want to point you to talks about metabolic, endocrine, and immune consequences of sleep deprivation. We seriously need sleep to function properly!

Below are 10 things you can start doing today to optimize your sleep quality!

Prepare your bedroom. The best environment to sleep in is one that is dark, quiet, and cool. I recommend getting blackout shades as well as covering any little lights with tape (like painter’s tape). For instance, if you use a sound machine (which I highly recommend to block out outside or inside noises), many of them have a little light that can easily be covered by tape. Keep the temperature comfortably cool for you. I prefer 68 degrees, but everyone is different. This way you won’t wake up sweating in the middle of the night. Also, I recommend keeping all electronics out of the bedroom so there are not distractions. Get a good old fashioned alarm clock if you can instead of using your phone. Make sure to get one that you can turn the lights off. Also, make sure you have a comfortable mattress. There are many organic mattresses on the market that don’t emit gaseous chemicals mainly from flame retardants, polyurethane, and plastics. You definitely don’t want to be breathing chemicals in at night! My last recommendation is to limit bedroom activities to sleep and sex.

Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed. Avoid alcohol at least 3 hours before bed. Caffeine is a stimulant, so I would avoid that cup of coffee after dinner. A 2013 study published in the “Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine” reported that consuming caffeine six hours before bed can have a harmful effect on your ability to sleep soundly. Also, alcohol can also affect sleep. It might help you to fall asleep fast, but it can also wake you up in the middle of the night. If you do drink alcohol, do your best to have it with food to help slow the release of the alcohol and sugar into your bloodstream.

Get natural sunlight in the morning. Getting natural sunlight in the morning can help to naturally set your circadian rhythm. Aim to get 10-15 minutes in the morning and another sun break mid-day if you can! I definitely notice a difference in my sleep on days that I don’t spend time outside.

Create a nighttime routine that you do regularly before bed. This does not have to be complicated. I recommend going screen free 15-30 minutes before bed. If you are going to be on screens after dinner, try using blue blocking glasses. Even my 5-year-old wears them at night! Right before bed, choose a calming activity like reading (something light), stretching, deep breathing, or taking a bath. These activities will prepare your body for sleep!

Go to sleep when you are actually tired. This is something that I am personally working on! Since I am a working mom, nighttime is my time. I fight going up to bed at 8:30pm even when my body is telling me to head upstairs. The problem with not going to bed when you are actually tired is that you run the risk of feeling wired and tired when you get in bed an hour or two later. If this has happened to you, you know what I am talking about. You get into bed, you are wide awake, and not able to fall asleep. So frustrating! The lesson here is to go to bed when you are actually tired!

Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time (give or take 30 minutes) everyday (even the weekends) in order to set your body’s internal clock. Aim for 7-8.5 hours each night. For me, I have to get up at 6am to the kids off to school, so I always aim to be in bed no later than 10pm.

Stop eating a few hours before bed. Digestion takes a lot of work! If your body can solely focus on repairing at night, then you will feel much better in the morning. Also, if you eat something heavy close to bedtime, then it could cause indigestion which will definitely disrupt your sleep.

Try to get most of your fluids early in the day. I definitely don’t recommend going to bed thirsty, but you also don’t want to drink so much water that you need to use the restroom multiple times a night. My goal is to get most of my fluids in before dinner, and then I only take sips of water before bedtime. We all tolerate liquids before bed differently, so see what works for you. Getting up to go to the bathroom once a night is normal, but if you are going more than that if could be the amount of liquid you are consuming before you go to bed.

Exercise daily (preferably before dinner). Exercise can be very beneficial for getting a good night’s sleep, but if you exercise too close to bedtime you run the risk of not being able to fall asleep. When we exercise the body secretes cortisol which is a stress hormone. If it is too high, it can hinder our ability to fall asleep. It goes back to that feeling of being wired but tired. It is the worst! If you can get your workout in before dinner that is ideal. If you only have time after dinner, then I suggest sticking with something like a light walk or gentle yoga.

Be consistent. Not every night is going to go as planned. Life happens. If you haven’t nailed down a sleep routine that works for you, I highly recommend figuring out what does work for you so that you wake up each day feeling refreshed! Remember, what matters is what we do MOST of the time that counts.

If you feel like you have tried everything and still aren’t feeling rested, then there might be something else going on. Definitely come in and see us! Our providers do their best to get to the root cause of your symptoms.

If you are having trouble implementing a sleep routine, I would be happy to help you figure out a sleep routine that is sustainable for you. You can book a visit with me here!

Happy sleeping!

Stephanie Watson